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Trusting a Stranger on the Path to Freedom

by Leona Francoise 5 months ago in Sci Fi
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Breaking out into an unknown future.

Photo by Jana Shnipelson on Unsplash.

It's 2250. Planes, cars, boats, have somewhat all become obsolete. The only thing you need is to settle yourself on your couch, put on your headset and make sure your tubes are plugged in. Most people become glued to their couches when they're not out working. I don't blame them. You get home from work, get settled and virtually transport yourself to Italy and feel as if you're eating a delicious pizza or pasta. Once you get the taste of the virtual reality experience, there's no desire for anything else, no reason to travel anywhere in real life. Not that you could anyways. I don't know anyone who's left The Square and came back. Those who leave risk their life and know they cannot return. Although these people often didn't leave to see more of the world. They left because they didn't want to live in a brainwashed society.

I've always dreamed of real travel. Visiting a place, spending hours in a car or train before arriving, and being able to enjoy the scenery along the way. I know what it could be like... I read my great-grandmother's journals. She was a world traveller, visited almost every corner of the world. How did it come to this, where now we live in a government-controlled world where you cannot leave The Square... to go outside its walls, either the government kills you or you'll die from lack of resources. I know the answer, of course... it's money. Money makes the world go-'round. Whoever has more of it travels to cooler locations, gets higher quality food injected through their tube, and gets bragging rights at work. Growing up in an orphanage, there was no money, no virtual reality, and most people didn't pay attention to us.

But the invisibility was a blessing.

Moving through the world as a nobody, I get to do things others can't. Nights where I'm not dreaming about real travel, I go out and stroll through town, towards one of the abandoned buildings attached to the outer wall of The Square. Somehow it's become my secret space, where I can stare out beyond the wall. Not that there is much to see, except the night sky, but I dream of a world beyond the vast emptiness that surrounds The Square. Others dream about where to go next in their virtual travel. I dream of exploring life outside The Square.

I've tried to figure out when it happened, when we exchanged our beautiful earth for the virtual reality people are addicted to now. You can even experience the taste of real Italian ice cream or pizza through the feeding tube people hook themselves up to. When I glance through their windows, all I see are zombies. This couldn't possibly be what we were made to do, how we are meant to exist. But I'm not here to complain. I have a plan. Although Ms. R calls it more of an hopeful idea. She's the only one who knows about it. There are others inside The Square who wish to get out. So far the actual escape hasn't been too difficult to figure out. Rather, it's what comes after that's challenging. We know nothing of life behind the wall. Leaving is a great risk... but we have to risk getting out. I'd rather die trying than stay stuck inside.

It wasn't until I saw someone else in my abandoned building that my hopeful plan, my dream became a possible reality.

Getting out

Since seeing the other person in my building, I've been unable to think about anything else. I tried to follow him but reached a dead end on the roof. He was gone. When I looked out into the vast emptiness surrounding the world I lived in, I heard the faint sound of an engine. Someone was driving away. Since that night I've been going back, hoping to see him again, to ask how he gets out and if there is space in his getaway vehicle for another.

I didn't see the person for what felt like months, but I noticed signs that someone else had been in the building. A footprint in the dust, something moved. From this, I gathered the conclusion that his visit wasn't a one-time thing and that, maybe, my hopes weren't as dumbfounded as I had thought. I guess the person was being cautious. They didn't know if I was dangerous and with the government. For me, albeit dangerous too, it was worth the risk. Anything was worth the risk for leaving... my parents took the risk, and now it was time for me to take the risk.

I decided to leave a message. On my way from the orphanage, it felt as if the letter was burning a hole in my pocket, as if anyone from the outside could see its contents. If they could I'd be arrested on the spot, possibly even executed for attempting to leave. But I had to try.

Walking upstairs, the building suddenly felt darker and scarier. As if the letter had made this safe space unsafe. I looked around the house, thinking about where to leave the letter so that it would be found. I decided to leave it on the sole staircase leading to the top floor, even in a rush they should notice it. I headed back down and decided to go home to the orphanage, if my letter was found and answered, I'd have to be prepared to leave. I'd have to think about who was coming with me. I knew Ms R would want to stay. As much as she hated living inside The Square, her orphanage was one of the only places in town where abandoned children had a safe space. I knew she was a channel of communication between inside and outside, but how far it went I wasn't sure. She knew I knew, as once I had seen her. Since then I've tried to help her as much as I could. She always told me it's dangerous for two to know the plans, the methods of communication. It's dangerous for two resisters inside The Square to know one another. Nonetheless, she tried to teach me a few things. I was grateful to her, and if my letter would receive an answer, I'd let her know, but for now, as she had taught me, I kept it to myself. I decided to pack up my backpack with my most important belongings and a few clothes, although it wasn't much. Orphans didn't own much.

The next night I went back to the building. Knowing others used it made it feel as if it was no longer "my building". I know it hadn't been that in the first place, but something about it had always made it feel that way. Climbing up the stairs, I found the letter to be gone and I hoped that it was the familiar stranger who had taken it. I was disappointed to see there wasn't a response of some sort yet, but maybe it was too soon. I headed back home, not quite disappointed, but not completely satisfied either. The next two days were agony. All I wanted to do was visit the building and see whether there had been a response, but each time I tried to leave there was either something or someone in the way. A child in the orphanage that needed my help or a patrolling officer strolling through the neighbourhood all night.

The third night that week I finally got to go back again. It felt as if it had been much longer. I tried to refrain from being careless while rushing to the building. I wasn't disappointed. There on the staircase sat a thick envelope. My hands trembled as I opened it, barely being able to make out the words in the dark but feeling overjoyed when I'd managed to read the letter. They, whoever "they" were, would help me and possibly a few others escape from The Square. The rest of the letter included the risks, the possibility of death, and the warning of a long journey up ahead. I felt a tear stream down my cheek, I felt so overjoyed. This was the moment I had been waiting for all my life.

"I didn't know my words were so emotional," said a voice, coming from the dark. This startled me. In my swiftness, I hadn't taken the time to see if I had been alone. Not that there had ever been anyone else in the building, but it had been a careless act of me.

"Don't worry," the voice continued, "I'm here to help. I thought it might be useful to know each other, that way it avoids any complications later on." He turned on a candle he must've been holding and in the darkness, a young face appeared. At least, younger than I thought he would be. As he looked at me, studying my face, I couldn't look away. He must've only been a year or two older than me and more handsome than any guy I'd ever met inside The Square.

"You know it's rude to stare" he laughed, "My name is Logan."

"I'm X," I smiled back at him "thank you for responding, for doing this."

"Don't worry, it's what we do. Although it's taken quite a long to find you. You're quite the myth out there." Logan said as he continued to study me. I didn't feel uncomfortable. Something inside of me made me want this stranger to drink me in. I stepped closer to him and the candle, intrigued,

"What do you mean I'm a myth out there? What is out there? Who is out there?" I asked. Thoughts started racing through my mind. Had others been observing us on the inside? Had Ms R communicated information? Why was I interesting or important enough to be a myth?

"All will become clear soon, but maybe the names Yasira or Zane ring some bells for you." My heart dropped. My sister and my father... names I hadn't heard in almost 20 years. Could they still be alive? Could they have made it through the wall, to the other side? Do they know I'm alive?

"Hey, focus, we don't have much time, my ride's almost here but I need to give you instructions," Logan said, bringing me back to my current reality of a possible escape. "on the next no-moon night, next week, you and no more than four others have to come to the industrial terrain. Here I'll come to get you. Head to the barb-wired fence next to the sandbox and stay out of sight until you hear a whistle go off twice. You got it?"

"Got it, fence next to the sandbox, wait for the signal, escape," I repeated. Taking a step closer to me, Logan's face turned serious as he said in an almost whisper

"Just be sure that whoever your four people are that you wanted to bring, that they're all-in. That they won't doubt their choice when it gets tough or scary. We can't risk anything." Logan's eyes bore into mine and I felt myself grow hot. Trying to look away, I nodded.

"See you in a little while, X" Logan put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it before climbing up the stairs and leaving me alone in the dark. The sensation of his hand on my shoulders stayed even long after he had gone. I felt electricity buzzing through my body. I couldn't tell whether it was because of the physical contact or the opportunity of escape and finding my family after all this time. Standing there in the middle of the dark room in the abandoned building, I started to cry.

Moonless Night

The five of us headed towards the industrial terrain at the edge of the square. Jared worked here and was more familiar with the layout so we followed him. I was happy to have him there. We'd been together for a few years now, finding comfort in each other through the hardships and challenges of life inside The Square. But now I was happy to have him with me because the lingering feeling of Logan's touch, albeit innocent, hadn't left my mind all week and I wasn't sure how to deal with this odd feeling. Being with Jared allowed me to turn my mind elsewhere. We had met in the orphanage, Jared and I, as well as the rest of the small group that accompanied us this moonless night: Zosia, Lucy, and Brand. Zosia had been my comrade for all my life, having gone through similar experiences, we bonded in the orphanage and never left the other hanging. Brand was to Jared what Zosia was to me, and Lucy always came along for the ride. She wasn't always the most reliable but Brand, who'd been in love with her since our early teens, said he wouldn't leave without her, and of course, Jared wouldn't leave without Brand, so Lucy came along. The five of us reached the fence, where we hid behind some crates, waiting for the signal.

"You're sure this guy is going to come?" Jared asked, having been slightly sceptical of the whole plan. I knew he would've preferred to have been the one to organise it, his desire to be the one to save us all.

"Yes, I'm sure." I gave him a look that told him not to ask again. This wasn't the first time we'd talked through the plan and I was tired of doubts and questions while we were making our grand escape. I needed to focus. After about half an hour of waiting for a signal, I heard the whistle. Then a second time. Then it fell quiet. The signal had sound. I flickered my flashlight thrice, our indicated signal on my side. Before I knew it Logan was at the fence with a pair of giant scissors and some other tools. The reason our escape was via the industrial terrain was because of the fence. Sometimes workers had to dump materials on the other side.

Seeing him there, I felt that same electric feeling pulsing through me. Luckily observing him in this situation didn't seem odd, my friends were doing the exact same thing. It didn't take him long to cut a hole in the fence and get us through the other side.

We make our way through the fence, Jared is the first one through, I'm right behind him. Logan tells us to hurry into the truck, together with Jared we gather in the front seat. The rest climbs in the back, closing the door quietly as we wait for Logan to mend the fence. Everything seems to go smoothly, although the fixing of the fence feels a little too time-consuming. Otherwise, everything goes smoothly, almost too smoothly and I get a sense of uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. As Logan climbs into the driver's seat, his leg presses against mine and I forget all about the uneasy feeling. There was plenty of room for him not to, making me think I wasn't the only one who had felt the electric feeling when his hand had touched my shoulder that first time. On the other side of me, Jared grabbed my hand, holding on a little too tightly, as if he sensed what I was feeling. My thoughts were interrupted when, from the backseat, Lucy loudly exclaimed

"Oh my god, that went so smooth guys! Why have we been so worried all this time! But why did we waste time fixing that stupid fence? Let them know we're gone, I don't care! They probably don't care." Everyone looks towards Logan for an explanation, but he remains silent, focused instead on starting the car and driving off into the emptiness that surrounded us. Once the wall was out of sight, he took off his hood and shemagh, unveiling what might be the most beautiful face I've ever seen. Even in the dark in, back in the building, I'd been able to tell he was handsome, but now, up close, I could see his piercing green eyes and dark brown hair. While handsome he also looked younger than he had at first, he must be somewhere in his mid-twenties, only a few years older than me. I feel Jared's gaze on me, observing me observing Logan. I quickly avert my gaze, staring at the dusty road ahead, giving his hand a squeeze. Everyone in the car was quiet, feeling a little uneasy at the unknown future ahead. The idea of escaping was wonderful, but most of us hadn't really thought about what would come afterwards. Logan broke the silence.

"If we don't fix the fence, they'll know people have left. While you may not care that they know, we do. People escaping implies they need stronger security, tougher fences, and higher walls. Communication with the inside gets more difficult, resulting in being able to get fewer people out." His deep voice cut the tension hanging in the air. Lucy didn't dare say anything else.

"Us?" Jared asked, his face looking puzzled.

"You didn't think this was a one-man show, did you? It's rough out here but not that rough." Logan grinned. "You'll see what I mean when we get to the safe-house..."

Temporary safe house

We pulled up to an old, wooden house that looked as if the next gust of wind might blow it all away. There was a garage next to it that, as we approached, was opened up by someone else, another guy around the same age as Logan. We drove inside and from there we moved to inside the house, which from the inside seemed much steadier, yet also more like a home than a safe-house.

"The shabby outside is a facade," said the stranger who had opened the door for us, "if it looks abandoned, no one comes to search it. I'm Roni, welcome to the other side."

"Is this the safe house?" Zosia asked. Roni turned to Zosia and got a broad smile on his face.

"It's not but don't worry, beautiful, you're safe here with me." Although it was somewhat dark, I knew Zosia well enough to know she was blushing.

"Roni stop flirting and let's get going, we still have quite a distance to cover," Logan said, a hint of a smile in his voice.

I felt relieved that this wasn't the safe house. Besides that it felt homey and reminded me a bit of the orphanage back inside The Square, it still felt too close to the place we had so eagerly left. Roni and Logan moved towards a bookshelf, which they pushed aside to reveal a dark hallway. Before descending, Roni warned everyone that the way down into the hallway was quite a drop and the staircase was broken. Logan handed everyone a flashlight. He must've done this before to know we wouldn't have come prepared with such necessities. We could barely take anything from home... not that we were allowed to own much anyways. All I had packed up, besides some clothes in my backpack, was my journal and a photo of my family. I missed them. But now I had hope, Logan had mentioned their names which meant they may be somewhere out there.

In truth, it was part of the reason I had been so eager to escape from inside the wall. Besides feeling utterly disgusted at the way society seemed so easily controlled and stuck in their virtual world, I wanted to leave The Square to find my family. If they were alive. Back when I had been about five or six, there had been a great uprising. The government called the participants sick, claiming they were mentally ill. The rebels called it the "Darkest Night". There had been no moon that night and no one saw the big crowd coming. The rebel forces had been much bigger than anticipated by the government and they had to use force to keep them down. Those who weren't slaughtered managed to escape through the pre-organised safe routes, different passages leading elsewhere... Knowing the possibility of having to flee, my parents, Zane and Rosi had brought my sister, Yasira, and me. As the rebellion was met with force, chaos broke out and my mother and I fell. Before I knew it I couldn't find her anywhere and someone else scooped me up. Ms R was the only reason I got out of there alive, as well as how I ended up in the orphanage. No one ever gets adopted from there, although it serves as a benefit. Inside we were re-building the new rebellion.

"Are you coming?" Logan's voice brought me back to reality, reminding me that I had, indeed, escaped from The Square. I now had the chance of finding my family again, as well as helping break others out of the chains of the virtually controlled society. I grabbed Logan's hand, reached out to help me down the broken staircase, but stumbled with the minimal light. Logan's hands grabbed my waist to keep me from faceplanting into the floor.

"I gotcha," Logan said quietly, almost a whisper, his body closer to me than needed. I heard a smile in his voice and his hands lingered a little too long on my waist, but in the dark no one could see and I didn't mind.

Suddenly there was a different hand on my waist.

"You okay?" Jared asked, pulling me closer to him.

"Yeah, no worries, just a small slip." Now it was my turn to be happy for the dark, knowing that no one could see me blush. Jared and I were a team, but I had never felt such an intense attraction to someone I barely know.

"Alright, be sure to follow closely behind one another, Roni, you lead the way and I'll bring up the rear. We'll use three flashlights per time and the last one we'll have as a reserve. It's a long walk." Logan informed us. He closed the door, locking it from the inside, and off we went, following yet another helpful stranger in the dark hallway that was, hopefully, leading us to a new dawn and a brighter future than from where we had escaped...

To be continued...

Sci Fi

About the author

Leona Francoise

Professional traveller, writer, & 23 year-old digital nomad. Also a start-up’s communications & Media manager. Love connecting with new people!

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